Goodbye and good riddance to the 115th Congress
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., looks back after speaking in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. It was his farewell address. | Carolyn Kaster / AP

“You have sat here too long for any good that you have been doing… Depart! I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” — Oliver Cromwell, to Britain’s overly long “Rump” Parliament, April 20, 1653

The Republican-run 115th Congress staggered to conclusion in late December, leaving a record of little accomplishment. And what it approved was so bad that workers and the country were often better off when it didn’t do anything at all.

Its most notable achievement, if you can call it that, was a $1.5 trillion tax cut for the rich and big business—and peanuts for the rest of us. Voters saw through that right away, which is one reason the GOP got clobbered at the polls on November 6, losing 40 U.S. House seats and control of that chamber.

Republican lawmakers picked up a second dubious achievement award for their successful efforts to hollow out the protections for workers and consumers enacted after the financier-caused 2008 Great Recession.

The big banks and their hedge fund brethren, along with other financial finaglers, pumped millions of dollars in campaign contributions and hired white-shoe lobbying firms at high fees, all to emasculate the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reregulation law, and especially their bête noire, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Workers suffered, too: The Republicans used the Congressional Review Act, enacted by the GOP Gingrich-commanded Congress in 1995, to permanently trash pro-worker rules on safety and health issues, fiduciary responsibility of bankers and brokers to put pensioners and their interests first, and other pro-worker enactments of the prior Democratic Obama era.

Sometimes, congressional inaction was even worse than action. Consider the blind eye Republicans turned towards legislation for strong gun controls, to enact paid family leave, raise the minimum wage, put real teeth into labor law, and protect workers’ safety and rights on the job.

The Dreamers got dumped by the wayside. So were hundreds of thousands of workers and their families—many of them here for decades and including many union construction members—in Temporary Protected Status (TPS), who fled war and disaster-ravaged nations.

At least the ruling Republicans didn’t enact the so-called “New NAFTA” or the corporate goody bag known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Labor stopped that latter “free trade” pact, forcing then-Democratic President Barack Obama to shelve it before GOP President Donald Trump killed it. But Trump’s “New NAFTA,” no great prize, comes up next year.

Which brings us to Trump. What the Republican-run Congress didn’t do to us, such as repeal the Affordable Care Act, he did. He deported the TPS workers and planned to deport the Dreamers, too, until courts stopped him.

Meanwhile, a mass public uprising, in which union members played a huge role, convinced lawmakers that Trump and the GOP’s “repeal and replace” slogan for the ACA was a fraud. The GOP’s real goal was “repeal…and repeal.”

The Senate, in a cliffhanger vote, saved the ACA. That let Trump loose to hollow it out administratively and a GOP-named federal judge in Fort Worth to rule it unconstitutional, responding to a lawsuit from—you guessed it—19 GOP “red state” attorneys general.

And the GOP-run Senate willingly collaborated with Trump, too, in appointments that will haunt us for decades: Stacking the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, with right-wing ideologues wearing black judicial robes. Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and their lower-court brethren—Trump named few women and minorities—will wreak havoc for generations.

This sorry record lets us look with satisfaction on the election returns. Control of the House passed from the anti-worker GOP to Democrats. More than 100 new representatives will take their seats January 3, many of them progressive Democrats who ran on the Fight for $15 and a union, Medicare for All, and other pro-worker causes. There are 110 women, a record.

That doesn’t mean Nirvana will occur. Thanks to Senate election wins in “red states” at a time when the Dems had to defend a lopsided number of seats, the right-wing GOP majority there grew by two seats, to 53. Their foes: 45 Democrats and two pro-Dem independents.

But the Senate Democratic caucus is markedly feistier and more progressive, even if it has less power to block right-wing Republican schemes than it did before November 6.

So what can we expect from the new Congress? The Democratic-run House will pass pro-worker, pro-consumer legislation over the next two years, building a record for 2020. Most of it will go down the drain in the GOP-run Senate or fall before Trump’s veto pen, however.

Conversely, the Republican-run Senate will enact right-wing brainstorms benefiting corporate crooks. Those ideas will disappear in the House. And the Senate will seat more Trump judges.

And there will be a lot of political posturing—meaning the only way we as workers and consumers can break such deadlocks and end such sleaze is to, again, get out in the streets and put the pressure on.

So begone, 115th Congress. Goodbye and good riddance. But don’t expect easy sledding for workers in the 116th. Time to get back out there and work, again.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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